Cezanne -the card players.
Monday morning.Ten to six.There were a few new lads in the back.One particular gent,with a Belfast accent,without regard for the hour,was whining on about how the people of Castlewellan had chased him out. Some time before.I explained to him that it might have been something to do with his tone.I didn’t catch his name.Branley,up front beside me, demanded the driver pull over at the crossroads.Out he got ,vaulted the fence and began to chase sheep about through the field.Pure badness in him.He soon climbed back in,announcing in his deep baritone ” ’tis a great mornin’ for skull draggin’ cats.” He was a three day-a-week man and it had nothing to do with Maggie Thatcher.Pints surely. But he was wonderful when he did come in for he was ,in his own parlance, gifted. Two of the English chippies,who were against blood sports and could not therefore comprehend Branley,sat still, dumbfounded.It was clear to me that they would be unable to deploy him properly on a cricket field.First slip I would have said,or wicketkeeper if he were not hungover.A foreman is expected to know these things.Like how to get a man out,or how to put draw on the ball. None of the Irish lads let go even a chuckle at Branley,to keep the tans in the dark.Sure why enlighten them? They’d have you weeping in sympathy when they got down near their last fifty thousand.Might have to sell the Honda or increase the mortgage.A lot to worry about. Having heard my accent when I had admonished the refugee from Castlewellan a man called Joe the Bear spoke up ,” you wouldn’t be far from Rostrevor if you were at home.” We were on the M20 now, in Kent.Turned out to be the same Joe the Bear over whom Jimmy Hughes cried tears telling how he had carried four bags of cement on his back one dinnertime, to put a boaster in his place. And he was indeed the kind of man you could weep for,with his great broad white head and kindly eyes.A right royal refugee banished by want from the fairy glen to this cursed place.He was barred from every pub in Ashford and had redd most of them at one time or another.He was death on Kerrymen in a huddle,gobbling on and talking about him and would go to battle over a slight.He once showed me how to keep your thumb inside your palm in a melee,so as not to catch it on something and break it.This kind gesture was wasted on me but treasured just the same.Perhaps I had become too highly evolved,too much bloody Hamlet.Anyhow,I had crossed over.I was a thinker now.I never did get to tell him how much he reminded me of my mother who was also a Sloan.He cried when I left him in England.” About six mile out the road looking over at Greenore”, I replied.He was quiet then for a while and we both could hear the foghorn out in Carlingford bay. ” What does d-i-a-p-h-a-n-o-u-s mean?”,inquired a gypsy lad who was a dead ringer for Ryan Giggs and liked crosswords.He was a decent footballer too and could speak Romany.He guessed the answer when I explained,chastely,that it was like a woman’s dress that you could see through.It was sheer.Sheer delicious sometimes. Fitzgerald woke up and went to get out at exactly eighty-four miles per hour.He had the door half open before we saved him.A motorbike we had been passing was blown off up the embankment.But it was not possible to save Fitzgerald.He was far too beautiful.His middle name,I suspect, was Caravaggio.Women he had known for just a few hours would turn up for weeks looking for him.And did he cut a dash.He’d remind you of the Spanish Don of the Madre Dolorosa in Westward Ho!,a high ,proud, swarthy, moustachioed aristocrat bent by a will of iron on victory or destruction.
As sure as the speed of light is the crux of the universe,he was born for the stage.And he from Limerick too.With a voice like Richard Burton after a Cuban cigar,which voice he could propel like a shimmering javelin through space,across any raucous tavern.Gerald Fitzgerald.With a ring and an echo to it.Gerald Fitzgerald!. And he knew the Peri system better than anyone and could take or give orders and get the work done.As for subbies he knew “’em all”. All the while,spewing roll-up smoke and snot about the back of our chauffeur’s infinitely patient neck,perched Bootsy,all seven besuited stone of him,cursing and spitting vitriol at traffic and fortune.He had not washed after the war and shit himself frequently,for he ate poorly and was in continual fear of jeopardy.He had crossed the Pennines on foot, starving, in the sixties, after the hiring fair.So you would never insult him,only take the gentle mick.I never saw a man who loved a woman as he loved Mary.It made me proud to be married to her then.He would never let me buy a drink. And ,with a grace bestowed only on the debonair ,and those in love,he would exclude me,out of the room.By this means he restored my faith in human nature and from that day on I knew, when the time came I would lie contented in my grave
A bottle of poteen appeared beside Keohane,who could fathom all about a job or a man with a sideways glance.Mondays were not good for him and he was, I feared,beginning to slip.The finer the man the sooner he is undone by slight deficiencies in the promise of hope or expectation.Calamity he can withstand but the dull ache of emptiness destroys him, inexorably.Sometimes,even the love of a good woman cannot repel disaster.When he cast his eye across me I knew he had lost the fight today and would be heading for Basher’s.” Take James and send him back after,”says I.
About noon the police came on to the job and arrested a Scotsman who had killed his wife over the weekend.He came on into work anyway.He was bereft and knew not what else to do .His was no cold heart and he had no history of violence.A bit of the Dane in him, maybe.I had been slightly acquainted with him and had seen his wife once,a fine handsome girl.They found her in a field of ripening barley nearby,in the evening. I heard later she had given her love away, to someone else. Tennessee Williams once said that the greatest difference in people, he found, was between those who found love in the world and the rest, who did not. But he never rode in a Ford Transit Rolls Royce or worked with Joe the Bear. Still, like me, he loved,but could make neither head nor tail of Hart Crane. Sure , isn’t a glimpse now and then enough to be going on with.